12 Programs to Inspire Simple Living
Deciding to embrace simple living or minimalism was not a decision I took lightly. Although I donated the majority of my extraneous stuff at one time, the shift in my mental model was a more gradual conversion.
Over the past several years, I've watched some key programs that have affected how I view advertising, consumerism, and happiness.
Advertising Makes Me Sick and These Programs Highlight Why..
Back in 2001, Frontline aired an episode called "The Merchants of Cool," which focused on marketing and advertising to teenagers. Since I was teaching at the time, watching this episode seemed important. My initial thought was that information in this program might be useful in teaching persuasive writing.
But what I really found was an even deeper disdain for advertisers and marketers. Of particular disgust to me was learning about the creation of the mook: an offensive boorish caricature of male identity who is stuck forever in this Neanderthal state.
This program reminded me of Killing Us Softly: Advertising's Image of Women, which I had watched in college. If you have not seen any of the versions of Killing Us Softly, which Jean Kilbourne updates every few years, I highly recommend tracking down a copy of any of the versions. I'm linking to the latest Killing Us Softly 4 presentation, which I have not seen, but the trailer looks just as thought-provoking as the version I watched in college...if not more so.
More recently, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver featured a segment on Native Advertising. Camouflaging advertising as news is happening more and more. John Oliver's treatment of this subject made me laugh while scaring the shit out of me. John Oliver excels at scaring the shit out of me, but I have only Thank you to say to him and his staff. Thank you very much!
These programs crystallize for me how much scorn I hold for advertising.
Rampant Consumerism Doesn't Make Me Feel Any Better...
Enter Food, Inc. Thanks to a recommendation from my sister, I watched this documentary highlighting how our food is produced and distributed. I was shocked, disturbed, outraged, informed, and inspired.
After watching this film, I started buying more and more organic foods. While that strategy was not a catch-all solution to eating better, it was certainly a step in the right direction. And by taking that step, I was acknowledging that I wanted to live a healthier more intentional life.
It also kick-started a documentary viewing rampage...
I found Frontline's full episodes online page and bookmarked it. I re-watched the episode "Secret History of the Credit Card." This program opened my eyes to the pervasive evil of the credit card industry.
I knew that I had a credit score, that paying interest was never desirable, and that I should be saving more money, but listening to Elizabeth Warren explain how banks deceive us turned my stomach. Since this program originally aired in 2004, some of the information is outdated.
But the overall theme of how these banks wring consumers dry is a good reminder to me that I want to be a creator more than a consumer.
Then I heard about a documentary about a different kind of plastic. I discovered Bag It: Is Your Life Too Plastic? and immediately loved the title. Double-entendres are awesome, right?
This film directly criticizes single-use plastic containers. It made me question so much of my consumption. Why would I eat something or drink something out of a container that I will use once, but that will last forever in a landfill?
After that movie, I bought a few canvas bags for grocery shopping and a vinyl bag that easily cinches up into a mini-bag for easy stowing in my purse. While I kept several of my BPA-free pieces of tupperware, I stopped buying any new plastic containers. I realized that I was using a lot of plastic ziplock baggies for making my lunches. I found washable BPA-free food cozies from Kids Konserve. I'm still using, washing, and reusing these cozies. There's still plastic in my life, but I'm trying to cut back on the wasteful overuse of plastic that stems from overconsumption.
Bag It inspired me to do a little more research about how much we truly consume. I stumbled upon the short documentary The Story of Stuff. This twenty minute presentation that is brilliantly brought to life with whiteboard animation explains, step-by-step, the true cost of consumption.
Even better, this website has expanded over the years, so there are even more short informative videos available there. There's also a podcast and a blog.
Another short video I found that addresses our consumerism, but asks the question What does a life well-lived look like?" is a TED Talk from TEDx Sydney by Nigel Marsh called How to make work-life balance work.
TED Speaker Nigel Marsh questions how we spend our time and why we keep putting off living our lives until retirement. He acknowledges the various aspects of our physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual needs. While he offers no system-wide solutions, his questions and points were designed to prompt me to question the choices I was making in my own life. And I've continued to question those decisions as I try to lead a simpler life.
And a documentary that I've watched several times is Inequality For All with former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich. This documentary breaks my heart every time I see it, but I continue to watch it because I feel like we are on the edge of a great change.
Basically, the film explains how we've arrived at a society where there is such an unequal distribution of income. Robert Reich continuously asks Who is looking out for the American worker, the American middle class?
Within the film there is one woman who makes the point that she doesn't want millions of dollars. She wants to live her life with her family and keep the small piece of the pie that she has earned. She questions why these greedy top earners want her piece of the pie. Don't they have enough?
Watching this film highlight the maldistribution of wealth in America makes me think that minimalism is a more achievable and more sustainable way to create my own happiness. Perhaps minimalists are the new middle class.
Finally...How About Some Programs That Focus on Happiness?
Several years ago, My Person and I went to a one-night showing of Bill Cunningham New York. My Person is a photographer and wanted to see this film covering the life of this New York Times' fashion columnist photographer.
While Bill Cunningham is an impressive figure, he is also a model of happiness and intentional living. The film takes you into his space, both at work and at home. He's not a minimalist in the sense of owning less, but he is incredibly intentional with what he does own. He leads a simple life cycling around New York City, taking photographs, and telling stories that he loves.
He's also potentially the nicest man alive. If you're just looking for a feel-good documentary, this is it. I can't imagine walking away from this film and not having a more positive outlook on life.
As I was donating my hordes of stuff in Denver, I heard about the tiny house movement. Now, something you should know about me...I love anything Barbie-sized. I adored redecorating Barbie's home and dollhouses when I was a kid because I liked figuring out how to make things tinier. I would sew my own little pillows for Barbie's bed or couch. I would create tiny paintings to put on Barbie's walls. I would save all sorts of materials thinking I could use them to make tiny accessories for Barbie.
So when I heard that tiny homes existed, I squeed a bit. And then I found on the YouTubes the documentary We the Tiny House People from Kirsten Dirksen.
She spent several years traveling the world and interviewing the owners of tiny homes and apartments. While I am not a fan of the music she selected for her documentary, the sheer volume of homes she presents makes watching this documentary worthwhile. Plus her YouTube channel has many more tiny home videos.
My favorite tiny home story is the man in Bordeaux, France who found someone selling their garage. Just the garage! He bought the garage and converted it into this beautiful tiny home that took my breath away. I want to live there!
And finally, there's the documentary Cutie and the Boxer.
This film highlights the years of artistic collaboration between Ushio Shinohara and his wife Noriko. Her family money kept them afloat in their early years, but then her family stopped supporting them.
Surviving on their own tested their strengths and weaknesses, but they are a truly complementary couple. His egocentric day dream of artistic recognition was consistently balanced by her sharp eye for the reality they were living in. Even though they struggled to build a secure life, they are clearly a happy and loving couple.
This film made me laugh and depressed me in several places, but mostly, it made me feel like living a simpler life is enough. Happiness is found amongst your people not within possessions.
What programs have you watched that have inspired you to live a simpler life?